Autism Risk Revealed By Ultrasound After Birth
February 26, 2013

Post-Birth Ultrasound Could Indicate Increased Autism Risk In Infants

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A specific brain abnormality, present in low-birth weight newborns, has been linked to an increased risk of autism later in life by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU).

The study, which has been published in the latest edition of the Journal of Pediatrics, found these undersized children are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder at some point in their lives if an ultrasound taken shortly after birth shows they have enlarged ventricles — cavities located within the brain that store spinal fluid.

Lead author Tammy Movsas, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the East Lansing university and the medical director of the Midland County Department of Public Health, and colleagues believe their findings could open the door for early detection of the somewhat mysterious condition.

“For many years there´s been a lot of controversy about whether vaccinations or environmental factors influence the development of autism, and there´s always the question of at what age a child begins to develop the disorder,” Movsas said Monday in a recent statement.

“What this study shows us is that an ultrasound scan within the first few days of life may already be able to detect brain abnormalities that indicate a higher risk of developing autism,” she added.

In research supported by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, Movsas and her associates analyzed data from a group of more than 1,100 low-birth weight infants born during the mid-1980s. All of the children had received cranial ultrasounds following birth, allowing the team to study the results for a link between brain abnormalities during infancy and adverse health conditions that surfaced in the years ahead.

Each subject received autism screenings at the age of 16, the university said, and some of them also underwent more rigorous examinations five years later. Those examinations led to 14 positive autism diagnoses, the researchers said, and the ventricular enlargement — which is more common in premature children than in babies that go full-term — could indicate a loss of the brain tissue type known as white matter.

“This study suggests further research is needed to better understand what it is about loss of white matter that interferes with the neurological processes that determine autism,” explained MSU epidemiologist and study co-author Nigel Paneth. “This is an important clue to the underlying brain issues in autism.”